Previewing Week 17: Bengals at Ravens
It’s almost hard to believe that week 17 of the NFL season is upon us, but we have arrived and the Ravens are in prime position to move on to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Ravens are 9-6 and with a win this Sunday will claim the 5 seed in the AFC and head to Kansas City to play the Chiefs in the Wild Card round. While it is tempting to look ahead to the potential playoff match-up with the Chiefs, the Ravens have one final regular season match-up against the struggling Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday afternoon.
The Ravens started off the season with a resounding 20-0 shutout of the Bengals in Cincinnati, setting the tone for a season headlined by defensive prowess and a hard-nosed rushing attack. A lot has changed since week 1 however; the Ravens have found a playmaking RB in Alex Collins and Joe Flacco has gotten a lot healthier. The defense has lost a few playmakers, but other players have emerged to take on big roles. Much has changed for the Bengals as well as the week 1 loss to the Ravens sent them into a tailspin that they would never fully recover from. They have also lost a number of players to injury, while QB Andy Dalton is having one of his worst seasons as a professional.
That said, the Bengals are still a dangerous team with a solid defense, and sometimes having nothing to play for works to the team’s benefit. The Ravens must treat this match-up as a playoff game as they could still miss the postseason with a loss to the Bengals and a Bills and Titans win.
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When the Ravens defeated the Bengals in week 1, Joe Flacco was not asked to do very much. He completed only 9 of 17 passes, highlighted by one short slant that Jeremy Maclin was able to take 48 yards for a TD. Flacco only attempted 1 pass in the second half as the defense and rushing attack dominated the Bengals. Since then Flacco has seen his share of struggles, but in recent weeks his numbers are quite impressive, harkening up memories of “January Joe” in many fans’ heads. Flacco will certainly need to be at his best if the Ravens are to advance in the playoffs, and week 17 could springboard Flacco and the offense into the postseason. The Bengals won’t make it easy for Flacco as they possess two of the better Defensive lineman in the division with DT Geno Atkins and DE Carlos Dunlap, while rookie edge rusher Carl Lawson is also having a strong first season.
On the back-end the Bengals will once again be without CB Adam Jones who has been placed on IR, but Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson III have emerged as one of the better CB tandems in the NFL. Jackson in particular has shutdown pretty much every WR that has come his way recently as he has allowed only 36% of passes thrown at him to be completed per Pro Football Focus. Flacco would be wise to avoid Jackson and throw at veteran CB Dre Kirkpatrick who has struggled mightily this season and is very prone to pass interference penalties. The health status of Jeremy Maclin is unclear for this game as he continues to miss practice, meaning Mike Wallace will likely be Flacco’s #1 target in this match-up. Wallace has been very reliable as of late, averaging 4.5 receptions and 73.5 YPG over the past 6 games, and he will have his work cut out for him against this tough secondary.
The Bengals may also be without star LB Vontaze Burfict who has missed practice this week and has seemingly been in and out of their lineup all season. If Burfict is out, it may provide more opportunity for the Ravens to run the ball against a suspect Bengals run defense that ranks 23rd in DVOA and has allowed the 2nd most rushing yards in the NFL this season. Alex Collins has not been as effective the past 2 weeks as he has been for much of the season, so this could be a good opportunity to get him going again provided that he is fully healthy. Buck Allen, who has spelled Collins and also gotten some work as a 3rd down back when Danny Woodhead was hurt, has run very well for the Ravens down the stretch, so he too could see extended work in this game.
The Ravens defense has shown some signs of weakness since losing Jimmy Smith in week 13. The Steelers passed for over 500 yards against them and Colts RBs were able to average over 4 YPC against what had seemed to be a much-improved Ravens run defense. Now the Ravens get face a Bengals offense led by WR A.J. Green that has given the Ravens some real problems in recent years. In week 1, the Ravens were able to shutdown the Bengals offense by dominating the line of scrimmage and forcing Dalton into numerous turnovers.
The ability to force takeaways has been the Ravens defensive calling card all season, and they may need to continue that trend if they want to hold down the Bengals on Sunday. The Ravens should maintain a significant advantage in the trenches as the Bengals offensive line has been a major liability all season, while the Ravens DL headlined by DTs Brandon Williams and Willie Henry, has been stalwart. Controlling the run game and pressuring Andy Dalton will go a long way towards generating turnovers, or at the very least limit the ability of Dalton to get the ball to Green.
It will be interesting to see how Dean Pees tries to take away Green in this match-up. The Ravens tend to let their CBs stay on one side of the field and not shadow opposing WRs, but recently Pees admitted he should have put his best CB, Marlon Humphrey, on an opposing team’s top WR to limit their production. Pees may choose to have Humphrey shadow Green in this match-up to see how he performs against one of the league’s top wideouts. Regardless, Green is the Bengals only major big play threat on offense and he will need to be handled carefully for the Ravens to succeed in this match-up.
The Ravens have a lot on the line in this upcoming game against the Bengals; if they win they are locked into the 5th seed no matter what other teams do. If they lose, they will need some help. I think the Ravens have the motivation and talent to finish out the season on a high note, and win a fairly close one against the Bengals 23-20.